COMMENT: KARRFALT ON NEW MEDIA

TV, LOCAL SEARCH WERE MADE FOR EACH OTHER

With ability to promote, TV stations are well positioned to run separately branded pay-per-click services.

Forward-looking stations that want to keep up with Internet advertising better start to think now about how to harness local search, according a new report released by research group Borrell Associates.

Local businesses placed just $420 million in search advertising last year, but that number will balloon to more than $4 billion by 2010, according to Borrell projections. That rivals what banner and display ads take in today.

Local search is already a competitive arena, with national concerns like Google Local, Yahoo Local, MSN’s Local Live and Amazon’s a9.com all vying to connect users to the local business they are looking for in exchange for a per-click fee paid by the business.

Yet these search players are struggling because they lack what local media sites have in spades—ties to their local communities. They don’t have a way to promote locally as TV stations and newspapers do.

“The conundrum for any national company trying to go local is that they have no one on the ground,” says Gordon Borrell, the research firm’s founder and CEO. “They can create a transactional Web site and hope the money comes in, but it doesn’t gain relevance with local people. It would be like NBC attempting to look local in Duluth without an affiliate. It wouldn’t happen.”

There are already several vendors that have emerged to help publishers and broadcasters get into local search quickly, offering anything from private label search utilities that give local media companies greater control over the architecture to complete turnkey solutions that offer cookie cutter shopping channels and support to help train sales staff.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

WKRN Nashville, a Young Broadcasting station, and Capitol Broadcasting’s WRAL Raleigh, N.C., last year launched stand-alone search sites with Premiere Guide.com.

WKRN GM Mike Sechrist says Nashville411.com has grown steadily in sales and usage after a learning curve that required hiring a separate sales staff experienced in cold-calling smaller businesses. He says the success of the site is directly tied to how much effort the station puts into promoting it.

“We’ve learned that TV can really drive sales to the Net and that there’s a direct correlation between on air promotion and web traffic,” says Sechrist, who adds that traffic spiked after the station aired a 15-second spot for the site during last year’s Oscars telecast. “The only struggle we’re having is finding a balance between how much effort to put in for the return we’re getting back.”

The problem with getting more stations interested in local search is that it’s such a departure from their core business, says Borrell. Stations tend to look at the Web only as an extension of what they do on air. Search sites like Nashville 411.com or Wicked Local.com, operated by a small New England-based press, stand on their own and make no reference to the parent company’s media brand.

“It’s going to be difficult for stations to break out of their video mentality and TV station box to understand that this is a brand new medium with lots of different capabilities and search is just one of them,” Borrell says.

The good news is that more help is on the way. Broadcaster online specialist WorldNow is preparing to offer local search applications to its affiliate partners, working with a third-party vendor to add local site search tools.

So far, WorldNow’s efforts are focused on helping stations sell search packages to larger local companies like car dealership chains, rather than the kind of mom-and-pop establishments to which Nashville411.com caters.

WorldNow’s Sandhi Kozsuch says stations show interest in the product after he assures them they won’t have to go after such small fish.

“If the broadcasters feel they’re not going to have to sell to small businesses then their interest is sparked,” Kozuch says. “If they feel like they have to double their sales staff to pull this off then it’s not something they want to do.”


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